How To Get Business from Other Lawyers

Most lawyers could use more business. We spend countless hours marketing to potential clients and referral sources, including other lawyers. But how do you know if another lawyer is worth sending business to, and how do you make yourself a good candidate for getting referrals from other lawyers?

What Other Lawyers Pay Attention To

How we present ourselves to each other is as important as how we present ourselves to potential clients and other professionals. When another lawyer reviews your services, the lens through which you are viewed changes.

Recently, I found myself in the unenviable position of helping a friend find a divorce lawyer. (It’s worth mentioning that I am a divorce lawyer, too, but it was best to outsource this case since I liked his wife and wanted to stay in their children’s lives.) He sent me some candidates who all looked indistinguishable to him; he didn’t know whether he should be looking for experience, price, or something else. But I found the candidates to be vastly different, and one was the obvious choice.

Here is what you should consider when marketing to other lawyers.

Have a Good Website

I’m not particularly technically savvy, but even I can build a good website. It’s not hard. If you have a website that hasn’t been updated since 1997 or is otherwise dull and uninviting, fix it. It absolutely is as important as everyone’s been telling you it is.

One candidate’s website had so much text I couldn’t decipher his message. He came across as confused and unsure of himself. When I mentioned this to my friend, he said, “His website was like our phone conversation.” Not a good sign.

Your website should tell potential clients about who you are and what services you provide. Make it simple and straightforward.

List Your Skills

Though the divorce would be relatively amicable, my friend would also need the help of a mediator down the road to split assets. One lawyer I reviewed was a mediator and a financial early neutral evaluator. She stood out. I knew this lawyer valued alternative dispute resolution and would know what to look for when the divorce went in that direction.

While my friend didn’t understand what those skills were, I did, and I knew they would make her a better fit for him. Intentionally list your skills and experience, because you never know who is checking out your website. Consider answering these questions to start:

  • How long have you been practicing?
  • Did you cut your teeth in a big firm?
  • Have you always wanted to be a solo lawyer?

Price Matters, But Not in the Way You Think

Don’t be significantly cheaper than other lawyers when you have just as much experience.1

One lawyer, who had been practicing for nearly a decade, was 50 percent cheaper than another lawyer with the same experience. I understood the discrepancy as his not paying attention to the going rate for a lawyer with his experience, or else he lacked the confidence to charge the going rate.

Either way, it was a red flag.

Be Compassionate

My friend emailed a lawyer to ask about a consultation and how the process works. The lawyer’s response was cold, disconnected, and full of legal jargon. If you can’t show compassion when wooing a potential client, you’re certainly not going to show it down the road when things get more difficult, and the client knows that.

While lawyers certainly aren’t therapists, an “I’m sorry about your situation” or “thank you for reaching out to me” can go a long way. I told my friend he should go with someone a little more human. He agreed.

How to Get Noticed by Other Lawyers

How do you ask for business, know the right lawyers to network with, or show you’re a lawyer worthy of their referrals?

Know Who You Are and What You Want

The ubiquitous elevator speech is important here. Lawyers meet a lot of other lawyers. If you can’t pitch who you are and what you do in 30 seconds or less, you run the risk of being lost in the shuffle.

Figure out why you are a lawyer. Focus on your practice areas and delve into a niche. Learn how to network. Then, tell other lawyers you want referrals.

It’s not desperate; it’s essential to running a business.

Explain Your Niche in Detail

Maybe you do simple wills but not living trusts. Perhaps you handle uncontested divorces but don’t want to see the inside of a courtroom. If so, knowing lawyers in the same practice area, with different niches, is invaluable. If a client comes to you, but their legal problem is out of your area of expertise, you can send that client to someone you know and trust. Other lawyers will do the same thing.

Connect With Lawyers in Other Practice Areas

Every solo or small firm lawyer needs to know lawyers in different practice areas. Every day, I get calls asking if I do bankruptcy, or collections, or criminal work.

By helping that client get into the right hands, you are delivering a service that will pay off down the road. Plus, if your referral helps you get an “in” with that lawyer, you might get all the calls they field for practice areas outside of their wheelhouse.

Follow Up

While it’s likely some of the prospective clients I have referred to other lawyers have never called, there were certainly a few connections formed that I never heard back on.

That’s just bad business.

If you get a referral call from another lawyer, the absolute least you should do is thank the lawyer. If the referral turns into business, say thank you and send a gift. The referring lawyer could have sent that client to any number of other attorneys.

If you want to keep the relationship, show some gratitude.

Treat the Client Well

If I know you, and I send a client your way, I have professionally vouched for you. If you do well by the client, that makes me look good. If you blow off the client, or you don’t handle the representation well, that’s a professional mark against me. Not only will I not refer anyone to you again, but I may also tell my colleagues not to use you.

Meet Regularly

Most lawyers spend extensive amounts of time networking with other lawyers, other professionals, and prospective clients. It’s hard to be memorable. But networking is like dating: to develop a relationship, you need to get together more than once.

The first meeting is usually about who you are and what you do. Make the second meeting a brainstorming session on how you can work with the same clients. Meet again to share interesting articles or events you both have an interest in. Invite them to events and networking functions. Ask who their best referral partners are, and send those professionals their way.

If You are the Lawyer Sending Referrals

If you are not sure whether a referral is a good fit, check with the lawyer first. That gives you an opportunity to learn more about the lawyer, vet the client’s problem, and let the lawyer know you are trying to refer business. And it doesn’t leave the client in a bad spot if the lawyer is not the right fit, too busy, or otherwise uninterested.

Getting referrals from other lawyers can be difficult: sometimes our practice areas overlap, sometimes we’re intimidated to ask for referrals from like professionals. But it’s all about knowing who you are, asking for what you want, and developing relationships.

Featured image: “Business people shaking hands, finishing up a meeting” from Shutterstock.

  1. Unless you are trying to close the access to justice gap, in which case you should probably mention that. 


  1. Avatar EarlyMedievalSerf says:

    I don’t know about your state but referral business in my state is 100% entirely about referral fees. It comes down to whether the referring lawyer believes that you 1) may try to stiff them out a referral fee, 2) whether you will mess the case up and a) make them look bad or b) drag their malpractice insurer into the fray because of the referral fee. That’s pretty much about it. I get plenty of work referred to me, but I have to pay referral fees on most of it and it cuts into profitability. But it’s better to have the work and pay a referral fee than not have the work at all.

    • Avatar Julie Wilcox says:

      Thank you; that’s a really interesting perspective. It’s less like that in Minnesota, where referral fees are generally only found in PI and workers comp cases. Here, the lawyer typically has to stay involved in the case, the client has to agree to the terms of the arrangement, and the total fee has to be reasonable.

      • Avatar EarlyMedievalSerf says:

        That’s all true in Illinois too, but referrals are valuable assets that bring in ancillary revenue for lawyers, and attorneys with lots of referrals aren’t referring cases with significant retainers or attorneys fees to other attorney gratuitously. There are quite a few national injury/class action/anything contingency attorneys that are basically referral generators.

        • Avatar Sam Glover says:

          It’s possible that many of them are doing so unethically. Referral fees are the norm in Minnesota-based class actions, too, but when I was offered a “standard” referral arrangement by a well-known class-action firm in Minnesota, it was with a wink and a nod. I ran it by a friend who defends lawyers before the ethics board, and he advised me to turn it down . So I did.

          It seems like referral fees might be one area where lawyers really do seem to think they are above the law. Or at least the ethics rules.

          • Avatar EarlyMedievalSerf says:

            I think most attorneys are complying with local ethical rules to be able to tap an asset like a referral case with a $10,000 retainer plus regular billing. Get regular client contact, regular status updates from co-counsel, and its all laid out in the retainer agreement. Happens all the time.

  2. Avatar Simpleman says:

    Good post. I feel like part of my job is taking other lawyers, as well as people in a position to refer me work, to lunch, dinner, sporting events, buying drinks (not too many!), and getting to know them. It’s gotten me referrals, for sure, and also helped strengthen and develop professional bonds with other lawyers.

    • Avatar Julie Wilcox says:

      It also serves the purpose of getting to know people to whom you can send your clients for related (or not) purposes: bankruptcy, financial advising, plumbing. I’ve found it to be a real added value to be able to help my clients this way.

  3. Avatar Fathima Shaw says:

    Networking is an essential part of being a lawyer. Also, I liked the part about outsourcing work that could impact relationships. :)

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